Marvel’s First Asian-Led Blockbuster Is a Major Moment for Underrepresented Community

Marvel Studios | Disney

After hinting at elements from the Master of Kung Fu comic series for over a decade, Marvel is finally bringing the legendary Shang-Chi to the big screen. In the comics, Shang-Chi is the son of the character Fu Manchu (yes, that Fu Manchu) and rejects his father’s villainous ways in order to become a hero who fights for justice.

Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has renamed the title character’s father to Wen Wu and has eliminated some of the more questionable elements from the character’s backstory. The film looks poised to be a major moment for the Asian American community, as Marvel’s first Asian-led blockbuster. Some fans are hoping that Shang-Chi will be for Asian audiences what Black Panther was for African American audiences in 2018.

Who is Shang-Chi?

Shang-Chi is a long-running Marvel comics character who was created in 1973 to star in a series called The Master of Kung Fu. In the 1970s, martial arts films struck a nerve with American pop culture, with the films of Bruce Lee doing unbelievable numbers at the box office. Marvel had wanted to get the rights to the hit television show Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine, but they were blocked by that show’s rights holders, Warner Communications.

After all, Warner owns DC Comics, Marvel’s main rival.

Instead, the company got the rights to the old pulp villain, Dr. Fu Manchu, and spun Shang-Chi off of that property as the son of the villainous character. Over time, Marvel has downplayed this connection, as Fu Manchu is connected to some extremely problematic stereotypes.

The Master of Kung Fu

As the legendary “Master of Kung Fu,” Shang-Chi is a superhero who is often seen alongside other martial arts-based characters like Iron Fist and the extensive rogue’s gallery put forth by his father’s Ten Rings organization. Shang-Chi doesn’t technically have any superpowers but is able to use his mastery over his own chi and his extreme talents in Kung Fu to keep up with even the most powerful supervillains.

As such, Shang-Chi was a natural fit for a blockbuster Marvel film. His flashy powers are based on classic martial arts films, so it’s easy to see how he’d headline a big blockbuster. As one of Marvel’s most prominent Asian superheroes, the film is also a great chance to increase the on-screen superhero diversity that Marvel has been pushing for in recent years.

The Legend of the Ten Rings

With the updated character of Wen Wu taking the role of Shang-Chi’s father, the film looks set to focus on issues of legacy, fatherhood, and morality that will make it as much a classic martial arts epic as a superhero origin story. Wen Wu’s titular Ten Rings, alien artifacts that grant him superhuman powers, seem poised to take center stage in the film’s plot.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings opens on September 3 in theaters. Villains will soon know the fury of the hands of Shang-Chi, the legendary Master of Kung Fu.